How I Got Here
I got into planetary science as an undergraduate at UCLA. There, I was lucky enough to
become involved with one of the experimenters on the Viking missions that went to Mars in
1976. Although my first planetary interest was on the insides of the planets, over the
years I got interested in those things that touch the inside--things like the surface and
the atmosphere, and how they've changed through time.
One of the exciting things that I've been working on recently is the possibility of
there being life on Mars. Although you always see stuff about life on other planets in
the movies and on TV (shows like "Star Trek," the "X-Files" and so on), they always talk
about human-like beings that are intelligent and who we can talk to. Really, we're looking
for things like bacteria, the simplest possible life forms. And, the possibility that
there might be life there is exciting! Just think what it would mean to know that life on
Earth wasn't the only life in the universe! Everywhere I go, people ask me whether there
is life on Mars or on other planets, and about whether there might be intelligent life on
planets around other stars.
My interest in studying the planets goes back to when I was in junior high and high
school. There, I took all of the math and science classes because they seemed to be the
most fun. I got a small telescope when I was in junior high, and would spend a couple of
nights a week outside, looking at the planets and the stars. When I got to college, I
discovered that you could begin to understand how these objects "worked" by applying
basic concepts in physics. My college courses were mostly in physics, with some geology,
geophysics and planetary science courses. The most exciting thing I did in college was
getting involved in the Viking mission. It was one of the highlights in my life to be
there watching the first pictures being radioed back from the surface of Mars!
I went to graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, where I applied
some of this physics to understanding the surface and atmosphere of Mars. I feel that I
really learned how to think there, rather than just repeating what somebody else had done
(like when you do homework problems); that meant that I could begin to do and learn
things that nobody else had ever done!